A Post Office investigator has rejected any personal responsibility in the case of a wrongly-convicted manager, telling an inquiry: “I was only doing my job.”
Robert Daily investigated Peter Holmes, who managed a post office in Jesmond, Newcastle, when an audit said there was a £46,000 shortfall in his account.
Mr Holmes was convicted in 2010, but the Court of Appeal quashed it in 2021.
Yet Mr Holmes never got to see his name being cleared, having died from a brain tumour aged 74 in 2015.
He was one of more than 900 Post Office sub-postmasters, postmistresses and branch managers who were prosecuted for theft and false accounting after money appeared to be missing from their accounts between 1999 and 2015.
However, the prosecutions were based on evidence from faulty computer software rolled out to branches called Horizon.
Some were wrongfully sent to prison, many were financially ruined. Some, like Mr Holmes, have since died.
An inquiry into the scandal has been ongoing for more than three years, but proceedings were thrust back into the spotlight after an ITV drama told the stories of those wronged, most of whom are still waiting for redress.
Peter’s widow, Marion, was married to him for 51 years and has previously said her late husband’s reputation was “destroyed” by the Post Office.
She attended the inquiry on Tuesday to hear Mr Daily’s evidence, and told the BBC that seeing Mr Daily for the first time was “weird [and] surreal to think he was the one who actually led the investigation”.
The inquiry heard how Mr Daily, who has been employed by the Post Office since 1979 and became a investigation manager in 2005, began investigating Mr Holmes in 2008 over the shortfalls in his accounts.
Christopher Jacobs, the solicitor representing many sub-postmasters, asked Mr Daily what he would say to Mr Holmes if he was still alive and at the inquiry.
Mr Daily said from what he had heard from last week’s Fujitsu hearing in front of MPs, that he would “have been pleased he [Mr Holmes] had been cleared from any wrongdoing”.
“Throughout all this we were told the Horizon system was robust,” he said, but added from what he knew now it was “wrong”.
“We should have not been doing any investigations whatsoever,” Mr Daily said.
Asked if he accepted any “personal responsibility” for what happened to Mr Holmes, he replied: “No, I was only doing my job.”
Earlier the inquiry heard during an interview with Mr Daily in 2008, Mr Holmes raised problems about the Horizon system being “bloody awful”. He said he had “absolutely no idea” how there was a £46,000 shortfall in his accounts, “unless it’s the Horizon that has let us down”.
Mr Holmes told Mr Daily: “I haven’t got it, it’s not in my bank account. I spent too many years in the police force seeing things go wrong to start stealing money from anybody.”
Counsel Emma Price questioned Mr Daily about the probe, including around “checks” conducted on the Horizon system. She showed a report which said the investigator had a “strong view” that Mr Holmes should be prosecuted.
Mr Daily confirmed that there was no material related to checks on the Horizon software in the Post Office’s case. He admitted that was a “failure in disclosure”.
He also said he did not believe he knew of any other complaints about Horizon in other branches, adding that Mr Holmes’ interview was “probably the first time” he had heard of anyone mentioning problems with it.
He later said the Post Office “constantly” told investigators that the Horizon system was “robust”, but said he could not remember when he was first given the messages by his bosses.
‘Fanciful to think Horizon at fault?’
Sir Wyn Williams, chair of the inquiry quizzed Mr Daily over his investigation after he said it did not cross his mind that the missing money from Mr Holmes’ accounts could have been as a result of Horizon.
“Did you think it was so fanciful that it wasn’t even worth bothering to look at it?” Sir Wyn said.
Mr Daily said: “No that wasn’t the case, sir.”
Sir Wyn then asked: “No – so what did you do in the absence of any success in discovering the whereabouts of the money, what did you do to investigate whether in fact there had been a loss?”
“I’m not really sure how to answer that, sir,” Mr Daily replied before saying: “We interviewed Mr Holmes, he admitted to false accounting”.